What a memorable Wednesday night of Orioles baseball. Coming in a matchup that looked ugly on paper, it was even sweeter. On Tuesday night, Orioles hitters were one-hit by Cleveland and on Wednesday, they had to face the AL’s third-lowest WHIP in Triston McKenzie, plus a Guardians bullpen that had allowed no runs in 30 1/3 consecutive innings.
Sometimes, even when it makes no sense, you win. The Orioles didn’t do much against Cleveland pitching tonight, but they did two things very well: one, see a ton of pitches, and two, call up Gunnar Henderson. I’m kidding, but also not. The guy is a beast, just like everybody said.
Back to the first thing. Triston McKenzie has allowed precious few hits, walks, and runs this season. So forcing him to throw a lot of pitches proved a clever strategy. The Orioles got the righty to throw 86 pitches through four innings (he’d last just five), which included fouling off sixteen two-strike McKenzie offerings. It also included a 33-pitch third inning where McKenzie walked in a run following a leadoff single by Rougned Odor and after having had his head messed with during a fantastic ten-pitch at-bat by Anthony Santander.
McKenzie allowed only five hits tonight, but one of them was a big one. In Gunnar Henderson’s second trip to the plate in the fourth inning, the newest Oriole impressively fouled off a few of McKenzie’s best pitches (the curveball and the heater), forcing the righty to reach into his toolkit for a slider. Bad idea! Gunnar clobbered it, swinging so hard his helmet completely fell off, so he ended up trotting the basepaths bareheaded, looking super cool, anyway.
With that home run, Gunnar became the first Oriole to homer for his first MLB hit in his first game since Trey Mancini. Jim Palmer dubbed the blast “majestic.” The same goes for Henderson’s MLB debut in general. Not only did the rookie go 2-for-4, cracking a 101.4-mph single in the ninth inning just as some unlucky Guardians fan started chanting, “Over-rated!,” he also played good defense at third base. Gunnar started a clutch fourth-inning double play to bail out starter Jordan Lyles, flashing a big arm (MASN’s Kevin Brown called it a “Howitzer” and Jim Palmer fake-warned first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, “Look out there! You’re going to get hurt!”).
It was clear that everything else that happened in this game would, in all probability, be overshadowed by this performance. Which is why we turn, so late in the recap, to Jordan Lyles and his 6.2 innings of shutout baseball against a team with the fourth-best average in the AL. Forevermore, I’ll think of Jordan Lyles as the “Best Dad Ever” out there pitching late into games “for the boys,” but this lengthy shutout performance was more impressive than most.
At one point, this looked like it’d be an outing to forget from Lyles. His command seemed to abandon him at times... like when he threw more balls than strikes in the fourth inning, giving up a leadoff double to the dangerous José Ramírez, then walking the bases loaded. And still Cleveland didn’t score on him, then, or at any other point tonight.
How did the veteran righty pull 6.2 shutout innings out of his baseball cap? Timely defense, what Jim Palmer called “the best curveball he’s had all year,” and plenty of Orioles Magic! Magic! Magic! Lyles was lifted in the seventh inning after drawing his second GIDP of the game, leaving a 2-0 lead in the hands of Cionel Pérez, who quickly ended the inning.
It wasn’t much of a lead, especially against a Cleveland bullpen that had thrown 33 innings without allowing a run. That all changed with one out in the eighth. Adley Rutschman walked, the first Oriole out of the last eleven to reach base, and then one out later, Ramón Urías, DH’ing, launched a ball just over the wall for the Orioles’ third and fourth runs. Good time to bust the streak!
A four-run cushion started to look a lot better, especially when Cionel Pérez proved to be bringing ridiculous stuff tonight, including on a big boy strikeout of José Ramírez, who makes no at-bat look like a throwaway. Against Ramírez, Pérez went slider, fastball, fastball, fastball, sinker, to draw a swinging K. (Pérez throws the sinker only 14% of the time, and I’d forgotten he had the pitch. So, it looks like, did Ramírez.) To end the eighth, Ryan Mountcastle made a massive full-extension dive worthy of a former shortstop. Mountcastle would do it again in the ninth, gobbling up a liner to aid Félix Bautista, who wrapped up the game with ease after that.
Great pitching from the starter, shutdown stuff from the bullpen, clutch defense, tough at-bats taken against a competitive opposing pitcher. As of this writing, Tampa Bay had won and Seattle was up, but Toronto and Minnesota were in a hole. So, in addition to being an impressive win, it could turn out to be a consequential one, too. As of now, the Orioles’ 17-10 record in August is better than every AL team but Tampa Bay. The playoff push has new legs, and it seems that those legs are 21 years old and playing third base.
Who was the Most Birdland Player on Wednesday?
This poll is closed
Gunnar Henderson (2-for-4, single, "majestic" HR in his MLB debut)
Jordan Lyles (6.2 IP, 0 R, 4 H) (mostly in this MBP poll for all the contrarians who refuse to vote for Gunnar)
Ramón Urías (2-run HR) (ditto)
Rougned Odor (2-for-4, R, great D) (ditto)